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World News

15 Aug 2022

Mexico president to bypass congress to keep army in streets

AP:

Mexico’s president has begun exploring plans to sidestep congress to hand formal control of the National Guard to the army, a move that could extend the military’s control over policing in a country with high levels of violence.

That has raised concerns because President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won approval for creating the force in 2019 by pledging in the constitution that it would be under nominal civilian control and that the army would be off the streets by 2024.

Neither the National Guard nor the military have been able to lower the insecurity in the country, however. This past week, drug cartels staged widespread arson and shooting attacks, terrifying civilians in three main northwest cities in a bold challenge to the state. On Saturday, authorities sent 300 army special forces and 50 National Guard members to the border city of Tijuana.

Still, López Obrador wants to keep soldiers involved in policing, and remove civilian control over the National Guard, whose officers and commanders are mostly soldiers, with military training and pay grades.
But the president no longer has the votes in congress to amend the constitution and has suggested he may try to do it as a regulatory change with a simple majority in congress or by an executive order and see if the courts will uphold that.

López Obrador warned Friday against politicizing the issue, saying the military is needed to fight Mexico’s violent drug cartels. But then he immediately politicized it himself.

“A constitutional reform would be ideal, but we have to look for ways, because they (the opposition) instead of helping us, are blocking us, there is an intent to prevent us from doing anything,” López Obrador said.

The two main opposition parties also had a different positions when they were in power. They supported the army in public safety roles during their respective administrations beginning in 2006 and 2012.

When López Obrador was running for president, he called for taking the army off the streets. But being in power — and seeing homicides running at their highest sustained levels ever — apparently changed his mind.

He has relied heavily on the military not just for crime-fighting. He sees the army and navy as heroic, patriotic and less corruptible, and has entrusted them with building major infrastructure projects, running airports and trains, stopping migrants and overseeing customs at seaports.
Mexico’s army has been deeply involved in policing since the start of the 2006 drug war. But its presence was always understood as temporary, a stop-gap until Mexico could build trustworthy police forces.

López Obrador appears to have abandoned that plan, instead making the military and quasi-military force like the National Guard the main solution. “Their mandate has to be prolonged,” he said.

“I think the best thing is for the National Guard to be a branch of the Defense Department to give it stability over time and prevent it from being corrupted,” he said. He also wants the army and the navy to help in public safety roles beyond 2024, the current dateline established in a 2020 executive order.

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